Monday, December 27, 2010

A Lesson Learned

I am an aspiring writer.

There...I said it.  That's an enormous weight off my shoulders, you can be assured.

My good friend (and newly published novelist) Kevin Breaux sent me a link to a website in mid-October that I investigated and then pondered for a good week and a half before saying, "Damn it all, you unambitious sonuvabitch, just do it!"  So two days before I would need to start on a daunting test of self-achievement, I registered as a participant in NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month.  The idea?  To write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 calendar days of November.  Kevin, already a published graphic artist and short story writer, had been encouraging me to WRITE and SUBMIT almost constantly for two years, and while I had spurts of creativity in which I was able to put my ideas down on paper, I only completed one story in all this time, and it was never at a point where I was satisfied enough with it to make it a submission for publication.

But allow me to be very honest here: I was actually afraid to submit it.  I didn't really understand why, not consciously, until NaNoWriMo had ended at midnight on December 1, and I realized I had a 53,000 word manuscript on my hard drive.

I have started to write many novels in my life.  The was the epic fantasy that ripped off many elements of Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time, which I had started in high school in 1991, and even included dialogue from1986's Transformers: The Movie word for freakin' word.  There was the story of myself as a paleontologist turned adrenaline-junkie vigilante called the Red Man, from my college years, which was accompanied by a few character sketches and a logo.  There was another epic fantasy which I started to write during a long and creativity-sapping marriage, that had an overly complicated plot and a main character that I had created for a Wizard magazine contest, accompanied by maps and unique units of measurement to make everything as authentic as possible.  There was the pseudo-memoir about my life before and after the dissolution of my marriage.  Many others mingled throughout, with graphic novels begun here and there, and there is one trait that all these works share:

I didn't finish a single damn one of them.  Not one.

So you can imagine my sense of accomplishment when, on November 28, 2010, I clicked a button in Microsoft Word and a tool in the program reported back that my document contained 50,136 words.  The book wasn't quite done, and I took a day of rest before writing another 3,000 words on the last day to wrap up the story.  I felt great, and even more awesome feelings manifested after I wasted a lot of paper at work by printing out my manuscript.  Holding it in my hand, rough first draft though it was...I can't quite articulate how amazing it was.

So here's what I learned from NaNoWriMo: be disciplined, and don't edit on the fly.

My two biggest obstacles to writing, finally unmasked!  I always needed to be in the mood to write, to create, and that cannot happen if one is to actually produce anything substantial.  This one I had always been aware of on some level, but the contest gave me a hard deadline, and I followed some advice I had read on the website to prevent giving up, and I told everyone I knew that I was doing it.  I wasn't going to embarass myself by being a quitter.

The second lesson I learned though was potentially the most important one, and an obstacle that actually contributed to the other issue.  I have always wanted my first draft to be my last draft, and the process of editing as you write, of trying to make sure all the details are perfectly consistent, it really slows you down.  For me, it would slow me down so much that it took all the joy out of the creative process!  If you don't love writing, you sure as hell aren't going to keep it up. 

So write the story.  Just get it out of your system, and then go back and re-write the story to make everything fit properly.  And then re-write it again to polish it nice and shiny.  And then edit for grammar and spelling.

NaNoWriMo opened my eyes to a new way of writing, because I would never have finished it had I stuck to my old methods.  As work continues on my manuscript, one that I hope will see someday see bookshelves, I'm holding this lesson tight to the vest.

For anyone interested, please see Kevin's author blog here, and support a new writer by following the Amazon links on his site to purchase his fantasy novel Soul Born.

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